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Today’s post starts with a disclaimer: my husband works for Amazon. I love Amazon. Even before it became our bread and butter, honey and jam, I loved Amazon. And although I adore independent booksellers too, somehow I always feel like I’m cheating on one with the other. If I could explain my dual loyalties, I’d say it’s akin to parenting two girls. My love isn’t mutually exclusive. I try not to pick favorites. They both have unique gifts to share with the world.

You can each have a shirt. Just don't wear it in public. No one needs to know.

Now that I’ve outed myself, I pray my local independent bookstore owners, (sorry Nancy and Roger!) won’t shun me when I visit their lovely shop. The admission of my traitorous family secret will inevitably work to their economic advantage, as I’ll depart Island Books with a tower of novels in an effort to assuage my conscience and feign innocence (sorry honey! I promise to buy your Father’s Day presents from Amazon.)

Hence, I do not think Amazon is the Evil Empire/The Company That Must Not Be Named. In fact, I recently tested the waters of e-publishing on Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP.)

For those of you contemplating self-publishing an e-book, or as was my case, an e-essay, below is a quick and dirty recap of my experience.

I had a low bar goal in mind when I decided to use KDP. In 2007 my co-authors and I published our book, “Dialysis without Fear,” through a reputable university press. At that time, self-publishing wasn’t an avenue we were willing to travel. Our view of self-published books was not positive. Five years later, the industry had done a 180 and so had my perceptions. I saw value in self-publishing where I hadn’t before. I was curious to identify the pros and cons of the self-publishing route and decided to use my award winning essay, “Bohemia,” as a litmus test.

I followed the directions on the website to the letter. I formatted my document to KDP’s specifications. The online software was easy to use. I wrote a brief description of the essay, which I hoped would compel browsers to read more. Because it was an essay, not a full-length book, and because I’m not a well-known author, I set a price of 99 cents of which, Amazon would pay me 45 cents. A price of $2.99 or more garners authors approximately 70 cents on the dollar.

The most challenging part of the process was creating a cover for my essay, which would pop on the screen. I used a bright color and a bold font. Lacking graphic design skills, I kept it simple and strove for professional.

Once I’d set my price, uploaded my essay, and proofed the final results, voila – I was self-published! I admit, for a brief moment in time I harbored a secret fantasy that “Bohemia” would become a runaway bestseller, the equivalent of a killer app., my Instagram windfall. So far, I’ve made about $54 give or take.

Which brings me to all I’ve gleaned from my thumbnail foray into the world of e-publishing.

The boons of KDP:

  1. The act of creating a professional(ish) cover, packaging my essay formally, and selling it on Amazon, enhanced perceptions of my legitimacy as a writer.
  2. I now have the beginnings of a fan base. It may be small, but it’s a start. I’m building my brand.
  3. Even a brief experiment, like mine, can serve as a focus group of sorts. I consistently heard, “I want to read the next chapter,” validating that I was on the right track.
  4. My folks were beside themselves with pride. My Dad even bought me an egg shaped pearl pendent (eggs are prominent in the essay.) You too can make your parents glow and perhaps give you meaningful gifts.
  5. It’s always a kick to see your work for sale in a storefront, digital or otherwise.

The downfalls of KDP:

  1. By self-publishing my essay online, other than on my personal website, I excluded it from submission eligibility to literary magazines and more contests.
  2. Those literary magazines and contests offer substantially more than $54 for a published or prize-winning piece.
  3. Several prospective readers thought if they didn’t have a Kindle, they couldn’t read the essay. Not so. But these misperceptions did illuminate a pervasive lack of ease or downright reticence that many readers still have towards e-pubs.
  4. It quickly became obvious that any hopes of making money in digital self-publishing hinge upon writing a great book, better yet a series of three, and marketing the stuffings out of them on a shoestring budget. No easy feat. As for my experiment, I didn’t have the heart to promote the hell out of it. After all it’s just an essay, not a book. Thus, it was doomed to financial failure.

I learned from this experiment that one cannot achieve a tipping point of digital self-publishing success without having both a highly readable book and a relentless marketing plan. Even then, it’s going to be an uphill slog. However, as CEO Jeff Bezos highlighted in his latest letter to Amazon shareholders, authors who use traditional publishing methods make 17.5% of the list price on e-books, substantially less than KDP’s 50-70% royalty program. A compelling incentive for many an aspiring author to dip a toe in.

What do you think? Is digital self-publishing on your radar – why or why not?